TrueHoop: Jamaal Wilkes
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Responding to Henry's post yesterday on Jamaal Wilkes, Kyle Slavin of The Second Coming tells this story about the time Wilkes stepped in as interim coach of his 11 and 12-year-old rec league team:
My father used to coach our 11-12 Rec league team at the Westchester YMCA, a decent group of kids that actually went undefeated that season. It just so happened that Jamaal Wilkes' son, Omar, was on the team as well. (He actually went on to play at UC Berkley, and did pretty well there.)
We played on Saturdays, and one week we had planned to take a family trip,, and we were going to miss the game. As my dad was looking for a replacement coach for the week, Jamaal actually volunteered for the job without being asked.
After practice, he showed up to pick up Omar, and had a worried look on his face.
"Now John, is there any system you want me to run, any set plays? And what about defense? How do you like to set up?" He had a million questions, including who our opponent was and whether we had played them before…basically, had he scouted them.
Dad looked at the three-time NBA All-Star and said, "Jamaal, you were in the NBA for twelve years. You played under Wooden and Riley. I'm pretty sure you can handle these twelve-year-olds."
My Dad told him what he could, but I always found it endearing how concerned Jamaal was about mucking up the plans for this little Rec league. It really shows what kind of stand-up guy he is.
And yes, we won the game.
Every now and again there's a player who comes along who seems impossible to rattle. Someone who may be smaller or weaker than other opponents, but unshakable. It's an incredibly valuable trait to have: Poise in all settings. When you're poised you can think, and notice things, and give yourself a good chance to be at your best.
We tend to think that kind of thing comes from genes, or random good luck. But surely it can be cultivated, right?
Jamaal "Smooth as Silk" Wilkes was an elite player at every level of basketball despite weighing less than 200 pounds and playing a lot of forward.
Wilkes won 88 straight games and two national championships in college. But for a final NBA season with the Clippers, he would have finished every season from the third grade on with a winning record. (He also starred in "Cornbread, Earl and Me")
And he spent a lot of that time guarding bigger and stronger forwards.
How did he do it?
In a Bounce Magazine interview with Alejandro Danois Wilkes explains:
I learned early on, at the Ventura East Side Boys Club, to make adjustments to compensate for my disadvantages playing against older and stronger guys. And I'll let you in on a little secret that very few people know. I was a martial arts enthusiast and those skills enabled me to excel at positioning, footwork, shifting my weight, understanding how to use the most of my strengths to downplay my weaknesses. I played against guys that outweighed me by 100 pounds. And they could not match my quickness, or smoothness as you say. ...
My size generated doubters about whether I could contribute at Ventura High School. Then I had to follow behind some serious studs at UCLA which generated doubts and being drafted by the Golden State Warriors created doubts. The average person would not put up a nickel for my chances in the NBA with my slender frame. But the record shows Rookie of the Year honors, four NBA titles, and seven NBA championships series.
(Photo by Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images)